Update: Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith’s response to my recent post

My original post about The Texas Tribune is here.

UPDATE 2: Click HERE for an interesting white paper on non-profit/commercial news partnerships from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

UPDATE 1: Evan Smith, CEO of The Texas Tribune just returned my call. And he was angry. At the start of the call, he cited me as having factual errors in my reporting. (In reality, there was only one. Jay Root came to the Tribune directly from the AP, not the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where he worked for many years, as I wrote.) As promised, I will give Smith his shot at a fair response right here:

Re: My accusation about a failure to disclose Texas A&M’s contributions to his organization in the recent New York Times piece, he said, “”I think we should have disclosed that A&M is an institutional donor to the Tribune.” He called the incident “a rare lapse.”

Smith then described a December 2010 story in the Times in which a Texas Tribune reporter, Emily Ramshaw, critiqued a Tribune donor, Christus Healthcare.

He said, “I wouldn’t be in the non-profit sector if I was in it for the money. I had a higher salary at Texas Monthly. The reason I raise the money has nothing to do with me, but everything to do with the the mission of this organization.”

Smith said that $315,000 is his actual salary, even though it may seem higher on financial reports, because of deferred payments.

He critiqued my notion that I should be watching over a watchdog by saying, “You’re allowed to have a point of view, but it ought to be based on something. Be a watchdog on the watchdogs. If that’s your place, God Bless.” By my own admission,  I have not done a full review of all of The Tribune’s articles to gauge whether or not they treat their donors preferentially. I simply found one recent incident and wrote about it.

However, I feel that someone must examine non-profit news organizations with the same scrutiny that for-profit news organizations are critiqued. Smith replied, “You haven’t done the work required to rip us a new one.” Admittedly, I worked on this post for a few hours, and I was unpaid for my work. Smith also said,  “There are plenty of places that go into strong stances on issues. We give you the tools to think about things yourself.”

He insisted, referring to donations, that, “None of this ever influences the work that we do. I pointed this out to Howard Kurtz in 2009: The money we got from advertisers at the for-profit publications where I previously worked is greater then what we get at The Tribune.”

Other Smith quotes from our conversation:

1. “If you provide us with the resources to do the work we do, we will get our work in as many places as possible. We will allow the individual corporate and foundations to support us, so that we can make that content available for free.”

2. “We want to help educate as many Texans as possible about the things that happen in the world.”

3. “The goal here is to provide as many news organizations as possible with great content.”

4. “The reason that you know about my salary is because we publish it. We overdisclose. We are not obligated to publish any of this stuff.” I disagree. As a non-profit, they must disclose the salaries of their five highest paid employees.

5. “We ask transparency of others so we do it ourselves.”

6. “My salary gives me a disincentive to ruffle feathers. We have written negatively about our donors. There are countless examples where they will yell at us.”

7. “It is enormously hard work. We take it very seriously. Most of us worked for for-profit media companies, but we believe the mission of The Tribune is more important.”

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7 thoughts on “Update: Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith’s response to my recent post

  1. An intriguing discussion is worth comment. There’s no doubt that that you ought to publish more on this topic, it may not be a taboo subject but generally folks don’t speak about these issues.

    To the next! Best wishes!!

  2. Perhaps corporations and institutions that contribute to the TX Tribune do so because they value excellent journalism and public policy debate with no strings attached. The acid test comes when theTrib holds a donor accountable for its actions and the donor continues to support the Tribune.

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